Celebrate the ERA’s 100th Birthday in Seneca Falls, Where It Was Originally Unveiled

(Kenny Holston / Courtesy of Generation Ratify and the ERA Centennial Convention)

On July 22, 1923, the National Women’s Party unveiled the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) at the First Presbyterian Church of Seneca Falls in New York. Exactly 100 years later, advocates from around the world will come together to celebrate the historic milestone at the very podium where ERA co-author Alice Paul first introduced the sex equality amendment.

The ERA Centennial Convention planned for July 21-22 in Seneca Falls is sponsored by Equal Rights Action, Columbia Law School’s ERA Project and Generation Ratify, a youth-led organization supporting the ERA and gender equality with chapters in almost every U.S. state. 

The celebration includes a plan to mobilize a national grassroots movement to recognize the ERA, including advocating to add the New York state-level amendment to the November 2024 ballot. 

“The point of the convention is to look back in order to move forward,” said co-organizer Kate Kelly, founder of Equal Rights Action and author of Ordinary Equality. “We hope to animate the next generation of ERA advocates.”

The target is to have at least one ERA activist from all 50 states attend the in-person event to build a nationwide network of advocates and set goals for constitutional equality for the next year. The event will produce a declaration of shared values and a collective action plan for recognition of the federal ERA and passage of state-level ERAs in the 23 states that do not yet have them.

“Our shared values are trans-inclusive, queer affirming and embracing abortion access,” said Kelly. “The second part is actually a tactical plan. How are young people and older adults going to work together? Then, on the final day, we’re actually going to vote on the document like they did in Seneca Falls.”

Organizers plan to re-create this historic photo of ERA supporters in front of the First Presbyterian Church of Seneca Falls in New York. (Courtesy of ERA Centennial Convention)

The convention begins with an interfaith ERA revival on Friday night, and an intergenerational panel on the ERA on Saturday, followed by an ERA march and rally that evening. The conference will include breakout sessions on effective organizing for equality, youth movement coalition building and global solidarity. It will also examine how LGTBQIA+ communities will benefit from constitutional equality and how the ERA can protect abortion rights. Participants are also welcome to tour the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.

Lawmakers speaking at the convention include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.); board chair of the ERA Coalition and former Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.); and President Pro Tempore of the Nevada state Senate Rev. Dr. Pat Spearman.

Activist speakers include Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal, NOW president Christian F. Nunes and Generation Ratify co-founders Rosie Couture and Belan Yeshigeta.

The point of the convention is to look back in order to move forward.

Kate Kelly, founder of Equal Rights Action

In preparation for the conference, organizers are offering a five-week curriculum, Reimaging Gender Justice, prepared and delivered by scholars and ERA advocates in collaboration with Columbia Law School’s ERA Project. Attendance has been robust, with 75-80 people attending each session so far. Sessions are recorded and available online here.

“The goal is that everyone is on the same page so once we reach Seneca Falls, we can really hit the ground,” said Kelly. “This is a working convention. We’re coming together in person so that we can make a blueprint going forward for state fights and for the federal ERA.”

People from across the country and from all ages, including 14-year-olds and people in their 80s, have registered so far. People under 25 can register for free.

“I think it will be very clear that this next generation is multi-racial, multi-generational and very, very diverse,” said Kelly. “We are seeing that both in the people who are registering and also in the public figures who are participating.”

On Sunday after the convention, the organizers will hold pro-choice women candidates brunch in Seneca Falls and a commemorative program to unveil a grave marker for Crystal Eastman, co-author of the ERA. A lawyer, journalist and work safety pioneer, Eastman co-founded the National Woman’s Party, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the ACLU.

“In 1920, Eastman gave a speech called “Now We Can Begin,” where she talked about voluntary motherhood and equal pay,” said Kelly. “It’s not dusty old history. We’re talking about the same things that they were talking about 100 years ago. We’re fighting the same fight.”

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.